Jim Gaffigan’s “Being Frank” is a dramedy that’s hard to forget, for all the wrong reasons.
It’s impossible to convey how horribly both the writer and director fouled up the tone of this film. Not only was it aggressively unfunny, but it toyed with serious issues like a nine-year-old plays with matches.
Viewers will have to carry the charcoaled remains in memory for some time.
The story is a compelling one: Philip (Logan Miller), the teenage son of strict, emotionally distant father Frank (played with near-malevolent glee by Gaffigan), sneaks away for a wild Spring Break vacation. He discovers his dad has an entire second family, complete with wife, house and two other kids.
This discovery, and the antics that follow, comprise the remainder of the film.
This might have worked as a black comedy, something along the lines of “Very Bad Things” in tone, if not events. Or it could’ve been a wrenching family drama, conveying the terrible cost of such an elaborate deception.
Maybe it would’ve been funnier if it had gone the madcap John Candy routine. Unfortunately, it did none of those things, attempting to blend light laughs with serious material, and the resulting cocktail proved hard to swallow. When your comedy relies on conversational zingers, they’d better land.
This isn’t to say that the film lacked poignancy. The problem is that the viewer is forced to do all the heavy emotional lifting.
The scene where Philip watches his father lavish love and attention on this second family that he has withheld from Philip’s family should have been a terrible punch to the gut. Frank obviously has much more affection for these strangers, and it was agonizing to witness.
Philip, however, just scowls, walks away, and kicks a few lawn ornaments. That’s all the filmmakers gave Miller to do. At no point does Philip come to any emotional grips with this situation. They don’t let him.
The movie seethes with missteps like this.
FAST FACT: Jim Gaffigan opened for Pope Francis four years ago at the Festival of Families in Philadelphia.
Despite the execrable writing, the actors did as well as can be expected. Gaffigan wasn’t handed enough material to show off any dramatic chops, but he did pull off the comedy well enough. Anna Gunn reprised her “Breaking Bad” role as a long-suffering wife with a reprobate husband.
Samantha Mathis is likable and fun in everything, including this role as the free spirit/hippie other wife. And Miller invested some pathos into his disaffected teenage role, getting you to care about what happens to him, even when he’s a jerk.
It’s Jim Gaffigan’s year on the big screen https://t.co/v1g78KMBZJ
— Jim Gaffigan (@JimGaffigan) June 24, 2019
If you’re looking for a nostalgia trip, rejoice: the movie takes place in 1992. A graphic not only tells you this up front, but Gunn uses a ThighMaster in one scene, and a couple of President Bill Clinton references pop up here and there to complete the tattered illusion.
It’s possible, even likely, that the efforts to set the film in decades past were shoehorned in by the director rather than the writer: a mixed-race couple in this early ’90s setting doesn’t get a second glance, for example, and nobody bats an eye when two side characters turn out to be gay.
The biggest problem with “Being Frank” is that it just isn’t funny. It’s not offensive, but it fails to amuse. None of the dramatic elements connect, either. With this much material to choose from, it could have gone somewhere, but it didn’t, choosing instead to occupy a colorless middle ground where all you can do is feel terrible for the characters, who don’t deserve what happens to them.
At least the title’s kind of funny, once you get it.
David Dubrow is a writer who’s tired of reading subtitles on foreign films. Check out his Armageddon trilogy of Biblical horror/fantasy novels and the Appalling Stories series. Find him yelling at clouds on his web site.